Tuscan Spaghetti Bolognese
Makes 4 servings
Adapted from Anne Burrell’s Pasta Bolognese
While I was studying in Italy, I learned what I thought at the time to be a crazy way to make Pasta Bolognese. It consisted of mirepoix (finely chopped in a Cuisinart), ground meat, tomato paste, water, red wine, aromatics, and salt and pepper. That’s it. The reason why I felt it was strange was because there were no crushed or whole canned tomatoes. It was the most flavorful Bolognese I’ve ever had and the reason why is because you brown all the ingredients, including the mirepoix. Everything sticks to the bottom, but do not panic. All of those bits of flavor will be removed and become part of your sauce once you deglaze with the wine.
2-3 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion
2 large carrots
2 ribs celery
4-5 cloves garlic
1 ½ tsp salt
2.5 pounds ground chuck or round (something pretty high in fat)
2 cups tomato paste
3 cups red wine
Water (lots of it)
2 bay leafs (fresh if available)
Small bunch of thyme (tied)
1 lb. spaghetti
flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped, for garnish
1. In a food processor, pulse the onion, carrots, celery ribs, and garlic until it becomes a coarse paste. Coat a large skillet with a thin layer of olive oil. Season the pureed veggies generously with salt, and slowly sauté over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until all the water has evaporated and they become nice and brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. Brown bits will begin to develop and stick to the bottom of the pan—this is a good thing.
2. Push the veggies to the side of the pan, and add the ground beef to the center. Season the meat generously with salt. Brown the beef (thoroughly), using your spatula to break the meat apart and allowing all the color to develop, about 15-20 minutes. It’s ok if the veggies brown more along with the meat.
3. Fold in the tomato paste and cook until well incorporated and the “paste” flavor has mellowed, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the red wine and cook until the liquid has reduced by half, making sure to scrap up any brown bits on the bottom of the pan—you want to make sure all that flavor becomes part of the sauce.
4. Add water to the pan until it is about 1 inch above the meat (if there is room, otherwise you will need to keep adding it in gradually as the sauce cooks down). Carefully stir in the bay leaves and the bundle of thyme and make sure they are submerged. Bring the sauce to a boil. Return heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for at least 2 hours, and up to 4 (the more time it sits on the stove, the richer the sauce). As the water begins to evaporate, gradually add more. Stir every so often and taste for seasoning, adding more salt as necessary.
5. When you are almost finished with the cooking process on the sauce, bring a large pot of water to a boil for the pasta. Salt the water very well–saltier than you’d think. Cook the spaghetti according to package directions until al dente, reserving ½ cup of the pasta water before you drain it.
6. Remove 1/2 of the ragu from the pan to make room for the pasta. Toss the pasta to coat in the sauce. Add a little of the reserved pasta water to make it easier to toss, and cook together over a medium heat until the water is well integrated with the sauce.
NOTE: If you are using a fresh pappardelle or taglietelle you will only want to cook for a minute or so. If it is too fragile, toss the pasta with a little olive oil and top with a generous spoonful of the sauce on top (see my image above and below).
7. To serve, top the pasta with another spoonful of the reserved sauce, a handful of Parmesan cheese, and a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. If you are using an herb (I used mint below), add a few coarsely torn leaves for garnish.